The Timberwolves ended up having a very quiet trade deadline this year, making no moves after turning over the bulk of their roster leading up to last year's deadline.
Their position is defensible: With Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley missing a big chunk of this season and barely having a chance to play together along with rookie Anthony Edwards, not to mention a mid-season coaching change in a year with a condensed schedule, they want to use the final 20-25 games when Beasley is back and Russell is presumably healthy to have some stability and evaluate their full roster and vision.
On Friday's Daily Delivery podcast, Chris Hine and I broke down the wisdom of that approach, with the counterbalance being that at 10-34 the Wolves have the NBA's worst record and need roster upgrades regardless of what they think of their core of players.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
One gets the sense, though, that even though the Wolves didn't make any deals this year, the same won't hold true this summer after they have finished their season and know what they have.
President Gersson Rosas has some core principles that guide his roster building, and one of those beliefs is that the trade market is among the primary ways to upgrade this team.
Stitching together a couple other things he said Thursday after the deadline about the need to get a power forward and the type of player they covet — combined with the actions of Rosas in the past — lead me to wonder if the Wolves will continue to aggressively pursue a trade for Atlanta's John Collins in the offseason.
"We've shown signs of potential, but we've also shown signs of failure," Rosas said. "I've been focused on making sure that we can get a front-line guy — a guy that is an upgrade to what we have, if we can't develop it internally."
Collins arguably falls into that "front-line" category. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason and will command in excess of $20 million per season. The Hawks were willing to part with him a few weeks ago, but then they went on a winning streak and it started to make more sense that they would ride this year out, make the playoffs and then reassess his future.
Collins would be an excellent candidate for a sign-and-trade between the Hawks and Wolves. Atlanta controls his rights as a restricted free agent, but they already have a lot of money invested in Danilo Gallinari at power forward and Clint Capela at center in each of the next two seasons. Keeping Collins long-term doesn't make sense given their choices, but a sign-and-trade in the offseason would allow them to recoup some assets instead of just letting him walk.
It might make more sense for the Wolves at that point, too, since Collins will be on a heftier deal instead of the $4 million final year of his rookie deal as he is now. That contract makes him a bargain, but it also makes it harder to match salaries.
The Wolves need to be mindful of the luxury tax threshold, and a trade for Collins as a $20-25 million a year player might actually be more feasible because they could more easily send out salary in return (like, say, what will be Ricky Rubio's expiring deal, a young player and a draft pick. It's instructive to note that our Chris Hine reported via a source that the Wolves had an offer for Rubio at the deadline but declined it).
And they would be able to bring him in long-term, as opposed to the 12 months or so they would have been guaranteed of Aaron Gordon had they pursued that trade at the deadline.
In short, this is starting to feel like the Russell pursuit all over again. The Wolves coveted Russell in free agency in 2019 and made a strong pitch. He signed with Golden State in what seemed like a placeholder move, and just months later the Wolves acquired him in exchange for Andrew Wiggins and a top-3 protected pick.
That move had two key elements that could be replicated with Collins: 1) A pursuit that started a long time ago, with groundwork laid long before it finally came to fruition and 2) Ultimately acquiring a coveted player via a trade and salary match that kept the Wolves' books in better balance.
By this summer, the Wolves will hopefully know more about a core built around Towns, Russell, Edwards and to a degree Beasley (though he would be a candidate to be traded as well). They will know if they are keeping their 2021 lottery pick or if they owe it to Golden State.
And the Hawks likely will have made the playoffs — something of value for a franchise that has missed the postseason three years in a row — but fizzled out quickly, leaving them more easily to consider a future without Collins.
In the short-term, Wolves fans are left with nothing but the hope that the return of Russell and Beasley sparks competitive play — but maybe not competitive enough to lose their lottery pick.
Remember: the odds are the same if the Wolves finish with the worst, second-worst or third-worst record: 40% they keep it (top three), 60% they lose it. If they have the fourth-worst record, it's 36.6%. Fifth-worst? 31.6%. And so on.
They'd have to leap-frog a lot of teams to get out of the bottom three, since the team with the fourth-worst record (Orlando) has five more wins than the Wolves do.
So there's at least a chance to finesse everything: The best odds of keeping that pick, a real look at their core players with tangible improvement and a path to a summer where they can acquire another piece in Collins.
It would require the threading of a needle for an organization that has a hard enough time putting a ball in a basket, but that's about the best plan they have at the moment.